Search for bike reviews by selecting...
- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 18 June 2008
The Ducati Monster is still one of the prettiest motorcycles on the roads, almost a decade after Gallizzi’s sharp design first broke cover at the Bologa Show.
Over the years it has grown into 600cc, 750cc and 900cc variants, each offering a unique spin on the urban retro concept.
But the competition has been catching up with the Monster of late, as hunky retro bikes like the ZRX1200, Honda X11, Yamaha XJR1300 and others, can boast more power - lots more power in fact. The solution from Ducati’s point of view was fiendishly simple; just slot a Duke 916 motor in the Monster...and stand back to soak up the applause.
The ultimate designer streetfighter? Insidebikes takes a ride.
I’ve always felt the Monster promised more than it delivered. With its 888 Superbike frame and Ducati heritage it ought to have been more capable as a sports machine than it actually was. In the end, the relative low quality suspension limited grip and highlighted the front end’s nervousness while the old air-cooled, two-valve desmo engines delivered insufficient power, and did that crudely.
It worked reasonably well as a town bike, although mostly because of the originality of its styling, as the low speed transmission snatch and limited turning circle weren’t particularly urban friendly. Yep, it looked cool, but it was no supersports bike and at best an average ride in the city.
The Monster S4 sorts out the sporting angle comprehensively, and as a bonus it’s much more fun in traffic too! The familiar Monster look is unchanged (although all the components are subtly different) but the performance is pure 916, not fuddy-duddy SS. And at 193kg dry the S4 is lighter than both the ST4 on which it’s based and the original 916, and it shows the instant you open the throttle - this bike’s a scream!
At 5000rpm the intake trumpets dig deep in their vocal range for that gorgeous Ducati burble and the bike hurtles forward like a true superbike, at last displaying the sort of hunky muscle you’d expect of the Monster name.
Just like on a 916, you can roll down a motorway slip road, pick your spot in the fast lane 50mph up the scale, get those injectors squirting and slot into it in an instant, leaving motorists wide-eyed at the gun-metal missile which has just destroyed their concept of how a road vehicle is supposed to perform. It’s civilised too, thanks to changes originally made to the 916 unit for the softer-focused ST4. No more violent lurching at low revs as with Monsters of old, this newest version will drop to 2000rpm and trickle through traffic with no real complaint even in top gear. It does shudder should you give it some throttle, but that feels more like a beast awakening than anything so ordinary as vibration.
Spin it hard and like a 916 (well, it IS a 916...) the power falls away at the top end, but not so much as to spoil the fun, which if you don’t restrain yourself happens all too easily at 120mph plus. Or just change up the slick, positive box earlier and feel the bike tap into its mid-range torque vat so compellingly you just won’t want to get off.
There’s a lovely, loping feel to the bike, too - the rear final drive sprocket has 37 teeth, six less than the ST4 and only one more than the old 916 itself. Despite this, and because it’s light and the weight’s more rear biased than a faired machine, it’ll still pop the front wheel in the air on the throttle alone in first, and with a dip of the clutch in second too.
Like the 916 too, you get surprisingly good fuel consumption - mixed riding with regular high speed work will return about 45mpg, and that includes the irresistible throttle-to-the-stop mid-range riding. That endows the Monster with a useful 160 mile range.
THERE’S MORE GOOD NEWS
Which adds up to the S4 being a real world motorcycle, as well as posing wheels. Long legged with a half decent fuel range and a torque-laden, high performance engine, and the good news continues. Like the engine the frame is sourced from the ST4, so it’s stiff and strong, and with the aluminium swingarm (other Monsters are steel) this also means a 10mm longer wheelbase at 1440mm and a 24 degree head angle against the old 23 degrees. And that spells improved stability without too much loss of agility, especially at high speed.
The steering is neutral and relaxed at most speeds, but below 25mph the bike does tend to drop into turns, forcing you to point the bars all the time rather than letting the S4 sweep round on its own - it seems to be castor related, so dropping the back end to lengthen the trail might cure it, at the expense of some ground clearance.
But helping the handling immeasurably is suspension which is a whole league better. The Showa forks at the front and Sachs rear shock provide an assured, well-damped ride which is far superior to the choppy nervousness of other Monsters, and which means at last you can really fling this bike about like the supersports bike it now is.
Crucially, ground clearance is massively improved (ride height is up by 20mm and the silencers tuck in better) so you can get some serious pace going down a bendy back road, aided by the grippy Pirelli Dragon Evo Corsas (no holding back in the rubber, either). The S4 can still get excitable, but it now makes you feel like you’re in charge and it’s going to go where you point it. It even feeds back decent information about how the front tyre’s going about things, where with other Monsters there’s a fair amount of guesswork and trust involved.
The traditional Ducati traits are in place on the Monster at last - heel the bike over, feel the g-force press you down onto the tank, wind open the throttle and marvel at how the rear rubber grips beyond the call of duty as the bike catapults out of a corner, all to the baritone tune of the big-hearted twin spitting out torque.
It goes, it handles and it stops too, the four-piston Brembo Goldlines shedding speed with their usual competence - even the back’s not bad. A couple of fingers round the lever and you’re howling to a halt, pressed against handlebars which at last have proper aluminium supports which bolt to the top yoke and allow easy access to the fork-top adjusters.
The superior suspension no doubt enhances comfort, but it’s improved in other ways - the seat is good enough for longer distance rides and the riding position is a little more stretched out from the original too-compact set-up, although the footrests are still very high. You’re not quite as near to the ground as on other Monsters, but it’s still an easier reach to the floor than on most bikes, which will please the many shorter riders who choose Monsters over traditional cruisers just for the low seat.
A lot of these are women, who’ll find the clutch still a touch heavy, otherwise all the controls are well weighted, smooth and refined - very refreshing!
Massive improvements so far then, but not everything’s better. The steering lock is still limited, so you’ll be making three point turns or just riding round the block where other bikes can U-turn, and although the little nose fairing definitely helps you maintain a higher cruising speed by deflecting the wind blast, it flaps about ridiculously - this has no place on a factory production bike.
It also gives the wrong signals about the rest of the bike, which is finished and built to a really high standard. The idea that (modern) Ducati’s corrode is something of a myth - I’ve run an ST2 throughout the winter with much less cleaning than it deserved, yet in the Spring it came up showroom shiny again, and other recent Ducati’s seem to be the same. The S4 too gives every impression of being just as durable.
What many riders won’t like is the visual clutter. The radiator and its attendant hosing are unavoidable additions but still there’s wiring which ought to be tucked away - there’s a naked block connector under the headstock for example which is especially ugly. But to counter this, there’s plenty of very tasty carbon fibre, including the cambelt covers on the engine with its new gun-metal finish. And the classic Monster look remains, in my opinion, classy and timeless.
The S4 difference is the way it goes - like a hot-rod 916.
Get Ducati motorcycle insurance for the ducati monster s4.
|Engine||4 stroke, V-twin, four stroke, water cooled.|
|Claimed power (bhp)||100bhp @ 8,750rpm|
|Bore and stroke||94 X 68mm|
|Carbs||None, electronic fuel injection|
|Chassis||Steel trellis style frame.|
|Front suspension||43mm Showa forks, multi adjustable|
|Rear suspension||Sachs monoshock, multi adjustable|
|Brakes||Twin front 320mm discs, four piston Brembo calipers. Single rear 245mm disc, twin piston Brembo caliper.|
|Tyres||120/70 ZR17 inch front, 170/60 ZR17 inch rear|
|Fuel consumption||45mpg average (est)|
|Fuel capacity||16 litres|
|Current price||£7,500 OTR|